Entertainment » Theatre

Dinner With Friends

by Jonathan Leaf
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Mar 10, 2014
Marin Hinkle as Karen & Jeremy Shamos as Gabe in ’Dinner with Friends
Marin Hinkle as Karen & Jeremy Shamos as Gabe in ’Dinner with Friends  (Source:polkpr)

So much crap presented in the theater gets wild praise. Does anyone really understand the plots of most of the lauded plays of Sam Shepard? Or Suzan-Lori Parks?

I thought about that as I walked out of the current Roundabout Theatre revival of Donald Margulies' 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Dinner With Friends." Because so much garbage is highly touted, most people reading the rapturous reviews this production likely will garner will probably dismiss them.

That's a shame.

In fact, it's a great shame because this revival will rank among the high points of this critic's decades of theater-going.

All of Margulies' plays are deftly realized. He draws his characters with exceptional fidelity, and his stories avoid cliches. But what has sometimes been missing in his work is the sense that he really likes or cares about his characters.

In plays like "Sight Unseen," "Time Stands Still" and "Collected Stories" the author seemed detached and critical. His characters were like actors who are shot under harsh blue-white lights with a special kind of lens that places them far away from anyone else or the objects around them.

Directed with grace and sensitivity by Pam MacKinnon, the cast is apt and effective. They are aided by Allen Moyer’s clever and varied sets.

"Dinner With Friends" is something else. In assessing the reactions of a sedate married pair of food writers (Jeremy Shamos and Marin Hinkle) to the divorce of the best friends they introduced many years earlier (Darren Pettie and Heather Burns), Margulies offers us compassion and affection. The play has more than an enough heart to go along with its very considerable wit and humor. Moreover, Margulies is able to capture the idiosyncrasies of real speech one moment and to work towards a certain poetic naturalism at others.

He's aided by an outstanding production. I confess that I saw neither the original New York version, which featured Julie White in the part now essayed by Burns of the narcissistic painter Beth, nor the HBO movie which offered the starry cast of Dennis Quaid and Andie MacDowell as the culinary duo and Greg Kinner and Toni Collete as their friends. I can say though that I find it hard to believe that either could have surpassed this one.

Directed with grace and sensitivity by Pam MacKinnon, the cast is apt and effective. They are aided by Allen Moyer's clever and varied sets which manage to reproduce a pair of Westchester homes in wintertime, a kitchen of a Martha's Vineyard beach house, a patio in the summertime and an expensive East Midtown bar -- if without drawing attention away from the actors and their complex interplay.

Likewise, Ilona Somogyi's costumes manage to suggest the characters' evolution over time without screaming, "Handsome duds! Look at me!"

It may be best to leave readers somewhat in the dark about Margulies' actual story. I can only promise you that it is by turns touching, funny and exceptionally memorable. Ordinary events and people are brought to life with extraordinary humanity and depth.

Go see it.

"Dinner With Friends" runs through April 13 at the Laura Pels Theater, 111 West 46th Street. For information and tickets, call 212-719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org/shows-events/dinner-with-friends.aspx.

Jonathan Leaf is a playwright and journalist living in New York.


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